Sunday, November 25, 2007

Schuylkill County and the Battle of The Little Big Horn

With my passion for the Indian Wars of America I got involved into a lot of research looking for the men who served in the military during the times of the Indian Wars, actually pre 1861 but mostly 1866-1900 era. I came across quite a few men who served in Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry regiments during this time period. Probably the most interesting find came with the finding of three men who fought and died at the Little Big Horn with my favorite of all Cavalry men George Armstrong Custer. This is their story, it was published a few years ago in Schuylkill Living Magazine, but here it is again.

Schuylkill County and Custers
Last Battle.
The Little Big Horn Connection.

On the late afternoon of June 25, 1876 overlooking the Little Big Horn river a force of Sioux and
Cheyenne Indians attacked and overwhelmed General George Armstrong Custer’s battalion of five
companies, consisting of 210 men. Writing into history the famed heroic last stand of General Custer and
the 7th cavalry.
Though the Little Big Horn is over a thousand miles from Schuylkill county, there is a an ever lasting
connection and mystery connected to this one of the most talked about and discussed battles in American
history. Three men from Schuylkill county fought and died on that dusty plain one hundred and twenty
three years ago.
The first news of the disaster reached the people of Schuylkill county in the July 7th issue of the
Pottsville Weekly Miners Journal with a short little by line entitled War Feeling. The rumor of the
massacre of General Custer and his men by the Sioux Indians created a great deal of excitement in
Pottsville yesterday. It was the universal determination not to believe the news until there could be no
room left for doubt. In case the army has to be increased in order to punish the savages, plenty of
volunteers can be got for the asking in this county; that is, if one can judge from the talk of the people.
The story begins on November 3, 1875 when Washington opens the sacred Black Hills for the mining
of gold and decides that Sitting Bull and his band of Indians must return to the reservation by the dead
line set for January 31, 1876 or they will be deemed hostile. The 31st passes with none of the Indians
returning to the reservation. During the insuring months a plan is devised that will produce a three
pronged attack against the Indians now deemed hostile. The plan is to converge on and break up the
concentration of Sioux and Cheyenne thought to be in the Little Big Horn Valley and force them back to
the reservation. On May 12, 1876 General Terry and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer depart Fort
Abraham Lincoln, located near Bismarck N.D. and head for the Yellowstone River in search of the hostile
Sioux and Cheyenne Indian camps. Also General John Gibbon’s command is advancing from the west at
Fort Ellis, Montanna Territory to rendezvous with the troops of Terry and Custer and another column of
troops is marching north headed by General Crook coming from Fort Fetterman, Wyoming Territory, this
combined force of is commanded to assault and destroy the hostile Indian camps.
Marching out of Fort Abraham Lincoln on May 17, to the famous cavalry marching song , ‘The Girl I
Left Behind Me” are three Schuylkill countians, Private George Adams from Minersville, Farrier William
Heath from Girardville both members of Captain Calhouns Company L and Private Herman Knauth
riding with Captain Yates and company F. George E.
George Adams military enlistment papers indicate that he was born in Minersville Pa, in July of 1846
and that he enlisted in the 22nd U. S. Infantry on October 18, 1869 at Fort Randall Dakota territory. He
listed his occupation as a teamster, George’s military record while a member of the infantry wasn’t that
of a pristine soldier, he was Court Martialed in March of 1870, the reason was not given. And on
December 19. 1872 he was discharged by reason of disability, which may have been from the hard
marching that was done during the Yellowstone expedition of 1872. Adams remained out of the military
service for a little over thirteen months when he once again took the oath of enlistment this time with the
7th Cavalry. Once again Adams’ military record was not good he was charged with being AWOL for 10
days in January of 1875. He was Court Martialed and Acquitted. He was then charged with being drunk
on duty in April of 1875 and sentenced to 6 months hard labor in May of 1875. He was released in
November of 1875 just in time to write his name in history in the battle of the Little Big Horn. George
was 29 years old, 5 foot 8 inches tall, fair completed and had blue eyes. There are no known living
relatives of George Adams living in Schuylkill County today.

The other member of Company L, Farrier William Heath was born in Staffordshire England, He
enlisted on October 9, 1875 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He had been a coachman in private life and was 27 years
old, had blue eyes, brown hair, and 5’ 7 and a quarter inches tall. Fortunately we know a lot more about
William Heath from information obtained from his family and Great Great Grand Daughter Debra
Brumbrauh. The William Heath connection to this battle is the most interesting of the stories. It seems
according to family history William worked as a coal miner and later became a coal and Iron Policeman.
In 1875 while living in Girardville, during the time of the Molly Maguire troubles. Apparently William
had some troubles with the Mollies when he decided to leave the area and joined the 7th Cavalry. At the
time of his enlistment William was married to Margaret Swanborough where they had one small child. Up
until June of 1876 William’s military service was nothing out of the ordinary but on that hot June 25,
1876 Williams life would change forever.

Private Herman Knauth born in Dammendorf, Prussia and was residing in Brandonville, Schuylkill
County with his brother William. He enlisted in the 7th cavalry on January 20, 1872, at the age of 33. He
traveled to Rochester, N.Y. and was enlisted by Lieutenant Forse. He was assigned to Company F. He
listed his occupation at the time of enlistment as a merchant, he had blue eyes, light brown hair and was
5’8 inches tall.

It was a cold and misty morning when Adams, Heath and Knauth and the 7th Cavalry left Fort
Lincoln on the expedition against the hostiles. While marching out of the fort and passing the Indians
who lived at the fort the column heard the Indians singing songs and beating drums. After passing the
Laundress row the boys saw the wives and children of the soldiers standing by the road, the grief of the
women was very evident by their mournful sounds. When the band struck up the song “ The girl I left
Behind me” the feeling was of sadness and despair. For the next twenty three days the boys would march
with their companies following Indian trails and tracks toward their day of destiny and history. On June
23rd the column crossed and recrossed the numerous streams that abound in the Dakota Territory and
found the main Indian trail, they made camp about 4;30 in the evening after a hard ride. On June 24th
after a hard days march the regiment went into camp about seven o’clock P.M. The march was a very
tiresome, in the evening the men camped along a clear running stream, over which were scattered great
amounts of rosebushes in full bloom. After watering , feeding and rubbing down the horses, George
Adams, William Heath and Herman Knauth would lay out their blankets on the ground for a much
needed rest which, for Adams and Knauth would be their last sleep alive.

About ten o’clock in the evening the men heard the call “boots and saddles” retrieved their horses and
set out on a night march. They marched until about 2 a.m. when orders were issued to drop saddles and
rest Some men went to sleep others just sat around in groups talking, It may have been, that Adams and
Heath talked of their home back in old Schuylkill County on this night, one can only wonder. Around
eight o’clock on the morning of the 25th the men resumed their march in pursuit of the Indians. After two
and a half hours the regiment came to a halt, the men were ordered to conceal themselves and remain
silent. Just before noon after being discovered by some Indians the regiment marched off at once the
regiment was divided into three battalions, Col. Custer took with him companies C,E, F, I, and L
Captain Benteen took companies D, H and K and Major Reno had companies M, A and G, with B troop
staying with the pack train.

The plan called for Col. Custer to launch a three pronged attack on the Indian village, Custer on the
right, Reno in the center and Benteen on the left. About twelve p.m. the regiment divided and the men
road of into history, Adams and Heath riding with Capt. Calhoun and company L, Herman Knauth riding
with company F lead by Captain Yates. What happens next has been written about for 123 years and there
are varying hypothesis and theories, but for this story we will remain with Col. Custer and the boys from
Schuylkill. Around two thirty in the afternoon Reno and Custer separate, Custer heads north, Reno fords
the Little Big Horn River to the south. Around three o’clock Reno charges the Indian village. Where he
will fight and then retreat up on the high bluffs to his rear. At three fifteen Col. Custer sends out the
famous message “ Benteen come on, big village, be quick bring packs P.S. bring packs.” Heading north
and west the boys move on at a trot, then a gallop, the adrenaline is rushing, checking their equipment to
make sure everything is in proper order, a Springfield carbine hanging by a strap on their right side and a
six shot colt revolver on their left hip each man had a hundred rounds of carbine ammo and twenty rounds
of pistol ammo. Hoping the whole time that your horse can keep up the pace and won’ t fag out. At four
o’clock Custer sends out three companies to the right, Adams and Heath wheel their horses of to the right
with Capt. Calhoun leading them, and twenty minutes later see the first Indian warriors to their front, they
load their carbines and fire on the Indians from horseback. Herman Knauth and his company pull off to
the left and recon toward a ford. At four forty company L, with Adams and Heath are ordered into
skirmish order on what is now called Calhoun Hill, C and I companies are in reserve. Company L forms a
semi circle on the south west side of the hill, they dismount and every forth man takes three horse to the
rear, Adams drops to the ground with carbine in hand and watches as his horse is sent to the rear, Indians
are swarming all around , more and more Indians arrive on the field, Adams is frightened but his military
training and the natural instinct for survival take hold, he fires right and left, Indians are now dashing
about on horse back coming in close then fading away, firing rapidly with their repeating rifles and bows
and arrows. Looking to the rear for his horse Adams can see the horse holders in jeopardy because of
Indians trying to frighten the horses, the are horses neighing and baying leaping about, the horse holders
are on the ground trying to hold back their frightened horses, But by this time things have gone badly for
George Adams, Shifting to the right Adams and L company continue to fight off the ever increasing
Indians, C company charges a group of Indians threatening the horse holders ,L company tried to come to
their support. One can only wonder by this time if George Adams was still alive, absolute chaos took hold
as warriors attack the wounded and dying troopers, some of the soldiers tried to run but he more than
likely was shot and goes down wounded, struggling to stay alive, with Indians swarming all around him
the troops on Calhoun hill begin to disintegrate. Fear sets in as Adams see the soldiers trying to flee and
more wounded men going down with Indians hacking and killing them. Fighting the whole time Adams
his hit by bullet after bullet and arrows slam into him and finally lying on the hot ground he succumbs to
his wounds and dies the hero’s death. His whole company will be killed except for one man, William
Herman Knauth had by this time arrived on last stand hill that is if he wasn’t killed on the
reconnaissance to the ford. About 50 men of F company made their way to the top of the hill, still
mounted trying to form some kind of a defense, it was a bad position a hopeless cause, when hundreds of
Sioux and Cheyenne warriors moved in on the trapped soldiers, Herman’s horse probably went down
wounded and he became dismounted , now fighting on foot, possibly he used the last of his ammo in
defense of his position, the Indians concentrate on the weakest points, some were mounted others were
sneaking in the tall grass, it is possible Herman Knauch was hiding behind a dead horse when the final
round struck him, what ever the case on this warm Sunday June 25, 1876 Around five in the evening the
last of Custers command fell dead along with their leader Col. George Armstrong Custer, and the two
Schuylkill county men who fell there with him and made their place in history. Hermans brother William
Knauch would not receive word of his death until mid August 1876.

The Schuylkill story doesn’t end with the heroic deaths of George Adams and Herman Knauth on the
banks of the Little Big Horn River, yes their names are forever etched on the granite monument that sits
atop last stand hill memorializing the troopers of the 7th cavalry. There is also one other name etched on
this monument, William Heath. But William Heath died in the town of Tamaqua on May 2, 1891, fifteen
years after the famous battle. How could William who was with the 7th cavalry on the 25 day of June in
1876 survived the battle ? There are a couple of theories concerning this event which will be brought
forth, and add to the ongoing mystery of William Heath.

According to Debra Brumbaugh a direct descendent of William, family research shows William was
living in Girardville after coming to America as a small child, he worked as a coal miner and was later a
Coal and Iron Policeman during the Molly Maguire era. In 1872 he married Margaret Swanborough. In
October of 1875 William enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 7th Cavalry company L. The
question is how did William Heath survive this battle when his whole company was killed to the man.
There are a couple of theories that may shed some light on this story. William was assigned as Farrier in
the cavalry, this job would encompass the taking care of the horses in the field and in camp, a very
important job in a company of cavalry, could William have been separated early in the ride to the Little
Big Horn, possibly to take care of an injured horse or a horse that was lagging behind in his company,
could he have fallen behind the column, and became injured or stranded alone in the territory ? Could he
have ridden to the final battle with his company on Calhoun hill, and be assigned as a horse holder, it is
very possible that a Farrier would have this responsibility. And during the melee that took place, could his
horse or horses bolted away from the company area, there a Indian accounts of crazed horses and soldiers
running away from the battle field, but all were reported killed, could Heath have gotten away on a
wounded horse ? There is a strange story of a soldier named Frank Finkle who claimed to escape the battle
while wounded he was a member of company C, and although some Custer scholars claimed it was a hoax
others noted that what he said could only have been known by some one who was there at the final
moments. The roster shows that there was an August Finckle listed as killed in the battle. One of the
reasons that it would be possible to get away, after one was thought dead was that most of the soldiers
were mutilated and heads crushed by the Indians making a positive ID impossible. The story continues
that William although suffering from exposure is found by a family of settlers by the name of Ennis, and
he is nursed back to health over the winter by a woman named Lavina. William finally arrives back in
Girardville. One method of verifying this story is by the tax records, William paid taxes in Girardville in
1874, 1875, he is not shown on the 1876 returns, and again he shows on the 1877 return, remembering
that he enlisted in October 1875 and was in the army up and until June of 1876. All the interesting things
involved in this story lean toward a strange occurrence and unsolved mystery. William is shown on the
company musters for the month of June 1876, he names his first born daughter after the person who
nursed him back to health Lavina Ennis, also Lavina Heath related a story to her grandson Richard
Taylor about an article that appeared in one of the local newspapers inquiring about William Heath who
had served out west in the army, he was somewhat taken back by this add and he never pursued making
contact. William nor his wife never applied for a pension from the military. The question arises as why
did William Heath never discuss or talk about what happened to him on that June day of 1876, at this
point we will never know, but it sure makes for another great story and legend from the great Little Big
Horn battle, with a little touch to good old Schuylkill County.

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